Charlene M. Shupp Espenshade
Special Sections Editor
BLACKSBURG, Va. — Starting this January, Virginia Tech students will see the return of university-produced milk. The Virginia Tech Dairy Science Department has partnered with the Virginia Department of Corrections to complete the farm-to-table cycle. The milk will be available at the Dietrick Dining Hall complex on campus.
“People at Dietrick could look out the windows (of the dining hall) and see the cows that make the milk they are consuming,” said Shane Brannock, Virginia Tech’s dairy farm manager.
Milk from the university’s dairy farm, located on Southgate Drive on the Virginia Tech campus, will be shipped to the James River Correctional Facility, just outside of Richmond, Va. The milk will be pasteurized and homogenized and packaged in large 5-gallon bags for the dining hall’s milk dispensers. Whole, low-fat and chocolate milk will be offered.
The process from the time milk is picked up at the dairy until it is returned for consumption is less than 72 hours.
“It’s all been positive. People are excited about it,” he said of the latest partnership.
Brannock said the university has had a long-standing relationship with the department of corrections and its agricultural operations. University researchers and the Virginia-Maryland Regional College of Veterinary Medicine have joined with the corrections department’s agricultural facilities and farms in support of research projects for decades.
The dairy plant has used a portion of the university’s milk since 2009. When the correctional institution decided to upgrade its dairy processing plant to a Grade A milk facility, DOC needed additional milk. Virginia Tech’s milk went exclusively to the corrections dairy plant this past July. With Virginia Tech’s milk heading to one plant, the ability to bring milk to campus became possible.
Virginia Tech’s dairy science department has a milking herd of about 235 cows, a mix of Holsteins and Jerseys. Holsteins make up about 70 percent of the herd; Jerseys 25 percent. The balance is a small number of Holstein/Jersey crosses remaining from a crossbreeding research project.
The herd has been shipping about 31,000 pounds every other day to the State Farm, Va., plant since July.
Brannock said since he arrived in 2005 to manage the farm dairy at Virginia Tech, one of the top questions has been, “Why isn’t the dairy herd’s milk served on campus?”
The reason: A creamery start-up was cost prohibitive.
Partnering with the DOC provided a cost-effective alternative.
Unbeknownst to Brannock, the leadership in dining services had been looking for a solution for several years. “The opportunity came at the right time” to make this work, he said.
DOC and the dairy science department signed a memorandum of understanding that defined a set milk price for university-produced milk. The agreement is reviewed each April.
Dairy science students are excited to see the increased awareness, and for the nonagricultural students, it can serve as a reminder that there is a university dairy farm.
“It’s certainly an opportunity for us to make the university community aware that a dairy is here on campus, although we are the first things we see on campus,” he said, referring to the dairy center’s location at the Virginia Tech main entrance off Route 460.
Annually, more than 1,500 people come through the dairy center for teaching, lab classes and tours. With the kickoff of university milk in the dining hall, Brannock is encouraging students to come over and tour the dairy and see how a commercial dairy operates.
The positive news comes in the middle of a time of change for the dairy center and the dairy science department. Plans are being made to relocate the university’s dairy farm to the Kentland Farm located 11 miles off campus.
The move is needed as a result of development pressures and a new interchange construction project taking the majority of the center’s property. Plans are to have the production herd relocated in the summer of 2015.